Skyharbor releases Ethos, a three-part documentary series
© Ali Bharmal
With a new album and a documentary series on the way, Skyharbor talks to Anurag Tagat about touring, working together and the making and remaking of Sunshine Dust.
In November last year, Skyharbor boarded a flight to Melbourne, Australia to record their third album Sunshine Dust. They were all smiles when they posted a photo before take-off but this was a band who had worked nearly three years to self-produce an album of songs (their best yet, by their own admission) that was now going to be remade.
Did it feel a bit like a detour? Certainly not, considering they were working with ace recording engineer Forrester Savell and had a record deal in the bag from U.S. label Good Fight Music. Drummer Aditya Ashok says the band had lost objectivity after a while of working on the songs for so long. Guitarist Keshav Dhar adds, “Especially for me. I was the guy essentially behind the computer putting it all together. It was a cluster-fuck, in all honesty.” They all agree there was a sense of relief in passing on the album to the safe hands of someone like Savell, who’s not only worked with the band before, but also has credits with prog heavyweights such as Karnivool, Twelve Foot Ninja and Animals As Leaders.
Once in the studio, Skyharbor recall how Savell took apart their songs in their presence. Dhar says with a laugh, “You’d be looking at each other going, ‘Guys, shut up, shut up. Don’t say anything’.” Co-guitarist Devesh Dayal recalls how their lead single “Dim,” which was originally much more prog metal-leaning, was remade into a punchier song.
Dayal says, “On the day that Forrester took the demo and reaching around it, I remember just leaving the room, because otherwise I’d have been like, ‘Fuck. No don’t do that! That [part] was there for a reason’. I literally stepped out of the room because I wanted him to do his thing first. When I stepped back in, I heard it and thought, ‘This is fucking amazing’. That basically happened with every song.” Songs like “Chemical Hands” became “Synthetic Hands” and heavier songs like “Menace” got changed up as well.
It’s all lined up for release on September 7th via Good Fight Music/eOne Music, on the back of two American tours that the band undertook this year, with prog band The Contortionist and Japanese kawaii metal act Babymetal. Over a Skype call from Los Angeles, Columbus, Mumbai and New Delhi, Skyharbor speak about taking the big leap and the stories behind Sunshine Dust.
When you’re in different parts of the world, how do you figure out what you guys have in common?
Keshav Dhar: I would say we’re still figuring it out in many people.
Eric Emery: As people? I feel like we don’t have anything in common. We’re all very different people who get along.
Aditya Ashok: There’s Tim and Eric. I guess.
Devesh Dayal: Don Broco! That’s a good point, actually. Over the years, when we’ve been on tour, there’s always been a certain band or bands that three out of five of us have been really enjoying. There was one time we were driving through Texas and all of them were listening to Pantera and fucking loving it, except me. Sometimes, it would be a different set of bands that someone else wasn’t into. Only recently on the Contortionist tour, we discovered Don Broco and every single one of us loved every song. Honestly, it sounds silly, that was a new bonding experience for all of us.
American tours – two of which you undertook since the late 2017 India tour – are so much different than European and Indian ones, right?
Keshav: Our management happens to be U.S. based and they got us involved with a U.S. booking agency. They’re super well-connected. The last two tours, they were put together really quick because our agent is so well-connected. He’s getting offer after offer or he’s chasing things and he’s never had a dearth of opportunities that he’s pitching for or offered. We even said no to a bunch of shit, if I remember correctly.
Krishna Jhaveri: In terms of touring, it’s completely different, because you’re touring in a vehicle as opposed to flying around. You’re carrying around your own backline, it’s another thing you don’t do here.
Eric: And there’s Chipotle, which is the best place on tour.
Krishna: All hail Chipotle! Two meals for ten bucks.
You played these acoustic shows to start off the Contortionist run of shows – was that nice despite the circumstances? You think you’ll do it again?
Devesh: It gave us a head start in terms of when we eventually do a nice, long headline set and we want to really slice it up and maybe do interesting shit.
Eric: For me too, I honestly think as a singer, my voice is more suited to that kind of stuff sometimes. It was nice to show people a different aspect of my voice than just with rock music behind me. People were really responding well, especially on that kind of tour. It was a metal/rock tour so I thought we would get booed off stage, but afterwards people were really into it.
Devesh: Another important thing about that was it made people realize that we’re not just a fucking djent chug band. People kinda knew that already, but you really drive that point home when you make it possible to translate that music on to an acoustic, with just chords and melodies, and your songs are still interesting.
How did the Babymetal tour come about? Did it surprise you that someone like them were interested in your music?
Krishna: Absolutely, yes.
Keshav: We were convinced we weren’t going to get it. We got an email saying, ‘Standby, we may have something in May’ and this was a month before it actually started. We’re like, ‘Well, it’s not going to happen, is it?’ And then the day we got the call saying it was confirmed. We were in the van and we just lost it, man.
Krishna: Screaming like little girls. It was fun.
Did you get to hang with them at all?
Krishna: A little bit. They have some protocols but they introduced themselves to us.
Aditya: They mostly speak in Japanese, though, so beyond a point, you can’t really have a conversation with them.
Devesh: I’m not sure how much we should be talking about in public, because they’re very secretive. Not them necessarily, but it was like no pictures and videos backstage.
A lot of bands are happy touring Europe and you’ve done that so often now. So is the focus on the States right now? Or are you suddenly getting a lot of people going, ‘Come to Brazil!’
Keshav: We haven’t been to Europe in a while.
Devesh: Deftones. That was a year ago.
Keshav: Oh right, I forgot.
Eric: Oh yeah that little thing, I forgot!
Keshav: States is where it’s at, man. If you crack that market, the rest of the world will…. Having said that, it’s hard enough to get permits to play in the U.S. so if we’d had opportunities to take them earlier, we would. Now that we do, I’m pretty sure that’s where the focus is going to be.
The album gets really heavy when songs like “Dissent”, “Menace” and “Temptress” kick in. Were those all written together?
Keshav: They were all separate.
Aditya: We just tried different combinations of what songs worked together in terms of transitioning smoothly and creating a mood and going into something else. We tried different combinations but this is what we stuck with. “Ugly Heart” into “The Reckoning” into “Dissent” is pretty… you can tell it flows pretty well. And then there’s “Menace”, “Temptress” and “Sunshine Dust”. There’s tiny little things elsewhere.
Devesh: The order of the songs was actually easier this time around because the songs are so different. It was clear how it should flow. I think with the last album (Guiding Lights), a lot of the songs have a very similar vibe and they’re different in a very minor way, it was arbitrary, but this one has a flow to it.
Aditya: I think we knew we wanted “Sunshine Dust” to be the last song and I remember that we had in place. Then we just filled in the blanks.
Keshav: We know we wanted “Disengage/Evacuate” to be the centrepiece, right in the middle.
Is there material you wrote that you’ve omitted from this album?
Krishna: There was some stuff that we thought we could make work but even Forrester didn’t think it would fit into the vibe of the current songs. We weren’t sure if “The Reckoning” was going to make it on to the album, for example.
Keshav: We had x amount of time and we wanted to do 12 or 13 songs, so we ended up rolling with the ones that were at the greatest stages of completion and the ones that needed complete overhauls, I think we left it thinking we don’t have time to do justice to it and we can do it later. There was a song called “If You Say So”.
Eric: I love that.
Keshav: It’ll be a song someday.
Watch the 3-part documentary series first part of Ethos, that goes behind the scenes to understand the challenges of touring and creating Sunshine Dust: